To promote Kansas City, business group turns to a familiar T-shirt design

Charlie Hustle T-shirts have been adopted by the Kansas City Area Development Council as the Kansas City region’s brand
Charlie Hustle T-shirts have been adopted by the Kansas City Area Development Council as the Kansas City region’s brand rsugg@kcstar.com

What defines Kansas City? It’s a question that local leaders have mulled over for years.

Is it barbecue? Texas, Memphis and the Carolinas would like to have a word about that.

Could it be jazz? New Orleans would argue the point.

After talking about it with the community for the better part of a year, the Kansas City Area Development Council thinks a familiar logo could represent the Kansas City region. On Friday, the business organization is launching Kansas City’s branding effort with the KC heart logo popularized in recent years by Charlie Hustle, the local vintage T-shirt maker.

“When you look at that mark, the K and the C and the simplicity of the heart, it’s not KCMO, it’s not Kansas City, Kansas, it’s not Johnson County, exclusively,” said Tim Cowden, president and CEO of the KCADC. “It’s everything.”

The KCADC had been on the lookout for something that could make the Kansas City region recognizable both locally and nationally, somewhat like how Nashville wrapped its image around country music or Chicago used the iconography in its distinctive flag. Something that might unite a city notorious for its divisions, whether it’s the state line, a river or county boundaries.

The Charlie Hustle logo came to mind for its ubiquity — the company has sold nearly a million shirts bearing the logo and celebrities like Paul Rudd have been spotted wearing it.

The KCADC and the shirt company, which launched in 2012, met this summer to talk about it.

“When we first sat down, it was actually kind of perfect timing,” said Charlie Hustle founder Chase McAnulty. “It was like a ‘where have you been?’ moment for Charlie Hustle.”

Charlie Hustle agreed to let the KCADC brand the region with the logo.

“I’ve always kind of had a sense of this can be much bigger than it is as long as it’s in the right hands,” McAnulty said.

The logo draws from Kansas City’s history. In 1942, the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues wore a jersey that had a similar logo. In 1970, Kansas City adopted a municipal logo that combined the shapes of a heart and cascading fountains.

The KCADC, which will reveal the branding campaign at its annual meeting on Friday at Bartle Hall, plans to market the logo far and wide. It’s the first such branding effort carried out by the KCADC in 20 years.

“In Kansas City, we’ve had a love affair with the heart for 100 years,” Cowden said.

Steve Vockrodt is an award-winning investigative journalist who has reported in Kansas City since 2005. Areas of reporting interest include business, politics, justice issues and breaking news investigations. Vockrodt grew up in Denver and studied journalism at the University of Kansas.